Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It's a Kindergarten World

in a far .. far distant galaxy . . .
Wally and I attended a Kindergarten Open House for one of our children. While we listened to an older woman, a long-time teacher of munchkins, speak to the group, we giggled to ourselves about the charmingly sweet approach she had…. addressing adults as if we were all kindergarten students. Wally and I decided that communication quirk must occur after years and years of teaching little people…perhaps it’s just the way you finally talk to everyone.

Flash forward 40+ years. Since that time my entire life, professionally as well as personally, has been focused around the care of children. Slowly, the realization has dawned: I am that woman we met so long ago. In fact, I do indeed see and approach everyone I meet as if he/she were 5 years old. Can’t help it. It’s the addled person I’ve become.

But is it really such a bad thing? OK, so I tend to see the world more or less as a huge elementary school, populated by all the typical early childhood personality types:
· Some “children” are sweet, responsive to direction, and willing to play together nicely; others are a little pushy and more in tune with their own agenda rather than what’s best for the group.
· Some are neat and tidy; some walk through life like Pigpen in “Peanuts” cartoons.
· Some are comfortable with whatever the classroom rules dictate; some want to challenge those rules and see how far they can push tradition.
· True, some of these 5-year olds are learning disabled and just can’t seem to fit in or even, perhaps, understand why they don’t fit in.
· Still others are developmentally disabled - perhaps quite severely - and they must be kept from the rest of the children so they won’t hurt others – or themselves. Hopefully, with lots of love and tons of help, they can re-enter the classroom, healed and whole once more.
· And then there are a few children who have chosen to exhibit behaviors that can be dangerous for the whole school; their disorders are more of the heart than the psyche and, apart from intervention by God’s Grace, there may be little hope that they can be trusted to function within a “normal” group of children. Sadly, these children must be isolated and sent to a “special” room where their actions won’t destroy the entire school.

Perhaps, in God's eyes, whoever people are, whatever they have done with their lives, whomever they’ve become, they really are just children. We are just children. You doubt it? Just look at us: We are envious, greedy, messy creatures who want what we want, whether it’s good for us or not. Yet we can be sweet, generous, and kind . . . usually when it suits our purpose. Silly us… All of our instincts are honed to gain approval and love from the people we admire. In the end, what most of us seek in life is to be accepted, to be cherished, to be warm and fed, and to have fun once in a while. Children!

And I think our Father wants all of those things for us as well. However, He would add one big extra. . . that we should love one another as He loves us. And that we should care for all of His children… the sweet ones, the pushy ones, the neat and messy ones, the compliant and rebellious ones, the disabled ones and, yes, even the dangerous ones.

Maybe it's ok to see the world in toddler terms. If nothing else, it helps us see more clearly the need and vulnerability in others. And, grasping that, just maybe we'll play a little nicer on the playground. We might even become a little more patient about taking our turn in life.. no pushing, no shoving. Remember to share. And, for pete's sake, use a hanky!!

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Fabled 50's

Every once in a while a friend or relative sends me an email, usually cleverly written with beautiful illustrations and ingenious graphics, about the utopian existence we all experienced living in the U.S.A. during post-WWII and pre-Vietnam (roughly late 40’s through early 60’s) years. Who wouldn’t want to go back to that innocent time?

I, for one, would not. While the simplicity and naivety of that time looks enviable from a distance, there are too many moments I never want to see again.

Polio: From 1950 to 1959, 257,455 cases of polio were reported, mostly in children; 11,957 died of it. Thank God, because of the polio vaccines, that scourge no longer threatens the lives of our children.

Discrimination: In the 1950s, racism was deeply institutionalized. 50% of black families lived below the poverty line; migrant workers suffered appalling working and living conditions; people of color were not permitted to take part in the American dream. Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 it was not illegal to discriminate based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender…. Again, thank God we have better laws now, even if it’s still difficult to enforce them upon the hearts of all people.

Domestic Violence: Wife-beating was not really considered a crime. Many psychologists explained that battered wives were masochists who provoked their husbands into beating them. A husband raping his wife was not a crime at all, but a sign that the woman was deficient in fulfilling her marital obligations. The prevailing sentiment was that women were like children who needed to be controlled and protected.

And then, there were the every day irritants:
· Panty girdles - every female over the age of 16 wore them . . .with slacks, dresses, etc! Ugh!
· Nylon hose with seams that never stayed straight and ran the first time worn
· Pancake-like make-up
· Dampening and starching clothing in order to iron everything
· No paid personal time or sick leave and few positions offering paid vacations
· Corporal punishment in the school system; anyone could strike a child as a discipline measure and most parents approved

Oh, gosh, I could go on and on, but I’m starting to scare myself.

Still, we can take ourselves back to that time by embracing some of the good things of the 50’s - if we choose. Why not try to have dinners with the whole family together? Monitor the TV kids watch, have Family Game Night, take away the play stations and computers and instead teach kids the fun of group games and physical exercise. Get to know our neighbors better and, maybe, plan social time together. Save money and raise a vegetable garden. Buy a few chickens for eggs and later have a nice chicken dinner with that old hen. Make cookies for your children and grandchildren – and the kids down the street. Cook a meal for the old couple next door or offer a ride to the doctor’s office. Stop worrying so much about what your house looks like and just open your door to people who need you. Caring for one another, showing courtesy to each other, teaching our children to respect the differences in themselves and in others. Now, more than ever, that can be what America is all about.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Robert Burns Nailed It

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley,
or, as the modern translation states,
The best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew.

Our camping trip under Oregon skies, ostensibly to view the Perseids meteor shower, was less than auspicious. That is to say, it was a bust, celestial viewing speaking. After 29 dry never-a-drop-of-rain days in Northwest Oregon, the skies chose that very night to open up and pour a full inch of rain on our unsuspecting and astonished heads! Who knew?

And it wasn’t enough that we missed our meteor shower; we had the added attraction of experiencing flooded tents! Sure, we remembered to bring our rain flaps – we even put them on just so. Nothing dissuaded the water, however, from running into Rae Anne’s tent as she camped on a small depression at the edge of the campsite. Sometime during the night she crawled into our tent, wringing wet and shivering like a drenched puppy. The three of us finished out the night in relative dryness (as opposed to swimming in the tent – the next stage in our condition) and, as soon as the sun arose and the torrent let up just a bit, we broke camp, threw all of our damp possessions into the cars, and headed home to warm showers and dry beds.

Actually, we spent most of the day cleaning out tents, washing sleeping bags and clothing, scrubbing down camping equipment, and sorting through our remaining rations of semi-dry foodstuffs. Of course, the rain stopped soon after we got home and that was the end of that! Turns out our camping venture took place on the only day it has rained around here since late June – with no rain forecast for the immediate future. Sigh.

Usually, I like to think I'm organized. When I plan an activity, I try to take into account all contingencies - and most of my ventures are met with some degree of success. But, once again, God has chosen to remind me that, really, I have little control over anything in my life. What makes me think differently? "The best laid plans . . . etc.." Foolish broad.

Yes, we’ll go camping again. When Wally and I return from our visit to California we plan to camp a few nights on Mt. Hood – rain or shine. But it would be just grand if the weatherman (or whoever wants to take responsibility for climate control) would promise just a bit of sunshine – or, at the least, no floods, fires, hurricanes, or earthquakes. Just a simple camping trip. Please.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Catch a Falling Star and Put it in Your Pocket

I am ready for this year's Perseid Meteor Shower.

The Perseid meteor shower has a wonderful and somewhat grisly history. Often referred to as the "Tears of St. Lawrence" this annual shower coincidentally occurs roughly about the same date as the saint's death is commemorated on August 10. While scientifically we know the appearance of the shooting stars are the by-products of comet Swift-Tuttle, our somewhat more superstitious ancestors viewed them as the tears of a martyred man who was burned for his beliefs. Who couldn't appreciate a fellow who had the candor to quip, “It is well done. Turn me over!" while being burned alive? If nothing else but save for that very quote, I'll tip a wave to St. Lawrence at the sight of a Perseid tonight.

This evening Wally and I will join Rae Anne where she’s camping in Oxbow Park. We’ll look for a clearing and hope for a cloudless sky (unlikely, according to weather reports). Scanning the skies for the annual shower of space dust long has been a favorite past time in our family. In the early 90’s the most wonderful show of all occurred! We parked on Lone Pine Highway, the very deserted and dark back road to Wrightwood in the San Gabriel Mountains. Usually we encountered few fellow observers as we performed our annual celestial pilgrimage. However, word had spread that the close return of Swift-Tuttle in 1992 heralded a record-setting storm of meteors and no one wanted to miss the show! The road was lined with dozens of cars and vans with people spread all over the landscape, craning their necks for a total view of the heavens. We were delighted! This was Southern California: usually the stars that caught the attention of the populace were the ones found in Hollywood! Who knew so many people would care to make the effort to watch this heavenly production? It delighted us, especially, to see the number of children whose parents were providing this brilliant moment for them. Way to go, Mom and Dad!

We have watched the Perseids from every natural plane imaginable: from desert floor, from mountaintop, from coastal sand, even from a rooftop or two. My favorite venue was watching the skies, lying on a blanket on the dusty ground of Table Mountain above the Mohave Desert. Sigh. Best view on the planet – at least, it was the best view. Then civilization swarmed into the desert, spilling over the sand like hungry locusts, raising the specter of ambient light that robbed the pristine firmament of its night.

Now we await the mid-August theater from our perch on a mountain in Oregon. Clear skies are not a given, so we have to hope for the best. Still, it’s good to know that the show continues, just as it has for centuries. It doesn’t matter if we get a good view; it does matter that we make the effort. This meteor shower, appearing as regularly as the tides, reinforces our connection to the universe. We can make the choice to be a part of something over which we have no control; on our puny calendars we can foolishly “schedule” a visit from the stars and believe for a moment that the show is for us – that somehow God is tipping His hat to us and dusting us with a little star power - to delight our senses and fill our souls.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Not my own words, but certainly my thoughts as I kneel in my overgrown garden, pulling weeds and harvesting the bounty. How generous this earth - how blessed are we!


My country is this dirt
that gathers under my fingernails
when I am in the garden.
The quiet bacteria and fungi,
all the little insects and bugs
are my compatriots. They are
idealistic, always working together
for the common good.
I kneel on the earth
and pledge my allegiance
to all the dirt of the world,
to all of that soil which grows
flowers and food
for the just and unjust alike.
The soil does not care
what we think about or who we love.
It knows our true substance,
of what we are really made.
I stand my ground on this ground,
this ground which will
recruit us all
to its side.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Green Cathedral

When I was a kid - junior high, to be exact, I had the (dubious) pleasure of of singing in our school's chorus under the tutelage of Mrs. Clark. A real character. If the boys (always the boys) acted up, she threatened to "put on her red-checked apron", emblematic for giving them a spanking. Actually, corporal punishment was widely used in those days, so it wasn't by any means an idle threat.

But she was an outstanding music teacher. Most of what I know about music theory was taught to me then. I went on to "major" in music throughout high school, taking 3 classes a day (theory, voice, and chorus) but I owe Mrs. Clark for the basics she taught as well as the love of singing which she inspired.

One of her gifts to me was a love of the "art" form of music - poetry set to a non-linear music pattern. A challenge to the voice and a lift to the spirit. I always loved a song called, "The Green Cathedral" because I thought it depicted an idealized, romantic view of a green forest. Actually, I'd never seen such a place, but I wanted it to be. Now I live in a part of the country where such a site is rather commonplace.

This week Wally and I joined Chris and Marty (and Ian and Sophie, of course) on a camping trip into Southwest Washington in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest. We camped among tall Doug Firs and old Cedars. Wow! At one spot Marty discovered a "cathedral" setting of trees, leaning into one another. As I snapped this picture, I was singing this old song:

The Green Cathedral
I know a green cathedral, a shadowed forest shrine, Where leaves in love join hands above and arch your prayer and mine. Within its cool depths sacred, the priestly cedar sighs, And the fir and pine lift arms divine unto the pure blue skies. In my dear green cathedral there is a sheltered seat, And choir loft in branched croft, where songs of bird hymns sweet; And I like to dream at evening, when the stars its arches light, That my Lord and God treads its hallowed sod, In the cool calm peace of night.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Am I My Father?

Know how you always hear the warning, “You’ll know you’re getting old when you look in the mirror and see your mother!”?? Well now, that all depends on how old your mother is – or how old she got to be before she gave up the ghost. My own mother lived until about the same age I am now, so as far as appearance is concerned, from here on out it’s virgin territory, so to speak. My mother aged quickly – no doubt raising eleven children had something to do with that. My life has been much easier than hers was, so it’s not surprising that I don’t have the requisite mother-wrinkles or the totally white hair she proudly flaunted. Vanity being all, I was determined to hold onto some semblance of youth as long as I could.

Then, this morning, tragedy struck! I looked in the mirror and saw - - - my FATHER!! What? What was that? Wait! Maybe it’s just allergies causing my eyelids to swell and hang over their sockets, blocking my vision! Let’s try some eye drops and start swilling the Claritin. There’s gotta be a cure for this – and nobody better mention my age - the cure for that is terminal! OK, calm down. This is just a temporary setback. Let’s see . . let’s try wet tea bags and Wally’s Preparation H on the eyelids. No salt for the rest of my life. In fact, stop eating right now! That way, I’m sure to eliminate salt and/or any other toxic ingredient. Drink lots of water. There! That’s the ticket. Wear sunglasses when I go out so no one will notice my bulging eyes; keep them on inside, too – so what if I can’t read the labels in Fred Meyer? In fact, try not to look directly at anyone – one-on-one eye contact is highly over-rated anyway. Breathe. Breathe again. Deep breaths. Hold on, don’t panic.

You think it’s funny? You think Old Crones don’t fret about aging because we’re so wise and self-assured and, well, generally “above all that”? Well, you can just think again! A woman is a woman is a woman. The one thing we all have in common, for sure, is a desire to be pretty. It doesn’t matter if we are a flirty four year old, a sweet sixteen, an engaging adult, or a post-menopausal personality. Every last one of us hopes to exude an appealing appearance. And it has less to do with what someone else sees in us and more about how we see ourselves. A loving husband can swear we are still beautiful and it doesn’t hold nearly as much weight in our judgment as an attractive image in the mirror. Fie on us, fickle, vain creatures! I’m certain there are some deep, analytical anthropological reasons for our foolishness and if we understood why we feel like this we could begin to appreciate how wonderful we are and how truly lovely and valuable we are intrinsically.

But today I just don’t care about that! Today I want to be pretty again. And thin. And winsome. And desirable. And yes, young.

Tomorrow I’ll be wise and strong and mature and capable and wonderful. Tomorrow I’ll understand this is just a momentary insanity; I’ll appreciate, once again, who I am and how much I’m loved by the people I love. Tomorrow I’ll be a much better person. For after all, as our heroine, Scarlett O’Hara, would say, “tomorrow is another day”.